And the truth will set you free

Tango can dredge up a lot of shit. If you stick around long enough, do the workshop circuit, visit enough communities, attend your share of milongas, prácticas, festivals, encuentros, marathons, festathons, pracuentrolongas, then, well, there’s no real way around the truth. If comedy is tragedy plus time, then tango is everything compressed into an orgasmic (or unmemorable) 9 minutes in the arms of a stranger on the grave where your decaying, high school sweetheart is buried. As a matter of fact, there’s probably a tango song written about exactly that because tango is unapologetically honest, histrionic and effusive about everything. What other style has so much range? Waltz’s romantic whimsy, tango’s intractable suffering, milonga’s foolhardy heft, and canyengue’s old-world swagger?

And perhaps this is precisely why the close embrace proves so daunting, or why milonga’s are often so anxiety-ridden, or why, at first, many new dancers bristle at traditional tango music. Because tango makes the truth a little too palpable at times, it nudges us – sometimes, shoves us – toward honesty:

  • we don’t like feeling vulnerable,
  • we’re not used to feeling this sexy,
  • we’re not used to feeling this sexy with someone other than our spouse/partner/lover,
  • we’re not used to feeling this silly,
  • we don’t want to feel silly,
  • why don’t I feel silly?!
  • we want to be seen,
  • we don’t want to be seen,
  • we aren’t sexually attracted to a particular dancer which immediately and entirely forecloses the prospect of dancing,
  • we feel old or fat or incompetent or sweaty so we don’t dance that night, or we think someone is, in fact, too old or fat or incompetent or sweaty, so we don’t dance with them that night.

In fact, some people have been told that they’re so hideous, no one would ever look at them twice. Yeah. It’s true. A small reminder that an avoided mirada or cabeceo might just be a tanguero/a dealing with their own baggage. Indeed, la vida es una milonga, as the song goes. Just a microcosm in a microcosm of the truth. Another turn in the ronda to work it all out, to be honest, at long last. And yes, Argentine tango’s truth is also milonga and waltz – often playful, goofball and spirited – appealing to the rascal in us that used to swing wildly from the monkey bars and prank our younger siblings.

And that’s the beauty of tango. How it unfolds, layer by layer, year after year, revealing more and more truth, driving us inward until we spill over like a glass of that bottom-shelf red blend you-know-who keeps bringing to the milonga. Given time, tango allows us to just be with those discoveries, the good, the bad, the ugly, the awkward. To recognize them. To acknowledge them. To let them stay and saturate us, or pass like clouds. Without confrontation or attachment. It’s here, in the sandbox, that we’re usually most productive and where most of our learning takes place. Where the encroaching waves threaten the things we thought were true, and after the high tide, the truth is all that’s left.